An ijāza for Ibn Mufliḥ

Akmal al-Dīn, a scion of the prominent Ḥanbalī Ibn Mufliḥ family, was mentioned here several times before and was probably the most visible of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s students in terms of engagement with his writings. Ibn Mufliḥ copied them, annotated and rubricated them, and also added material to some of them.

Among the evidence of their student-teacher relationship survives an ijāza Ibn Ṭūlūn penned for Ibn Mufliḥ after the latter’s discussion of some chains of transmission he had received from him (for the transcripts, see github). This document survives in the Istanbul manuscript MS Laleli 3747, fols. 192b-193a. Unfortunately, I have no further information about the other contents of this manuscript except that it did not contain any other writings by Ibn Ṭūlūn.

The two folios that I have seen carry a number of textual items. Two are directly concerned with acts of transmission. The ijāza proper documents a session on 9 Shawwāl 941 in the Umayyad Mosque and covers about one and a half pages. It is followed by a shorter ‘update’ of about three lines, which testifies to Ibn Mufliḥ’s discussion of an introductory work (muqaddima) on logic by one al-Sāghūjī about two years later (25 Rabīʿ II 943).

In addition, there are three items to be considered for the history of the document’s own transmission. On the originally empty recto of the first folio (192b) Ibn Mufliḥ added title information:

اجازة كاتبه اكمل 
من الامام محمد بن طولون 
رحمه الله نعم
To its left, a different hand added a note stating the date of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death (13[?] Jum. I 953) and the place of his grave (near the Cave of Abel on the slopes of the Qāsyūn). (I leave aside here a note in pencil that gives Ibn Ṭūlūn’s authoritative name and must be more recent). It is clear from the wording of the title that Ibn Mufliḥ added it after Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death and thus at least a decade after the transmission. Finally, below the end of the text a waqf stamp can be found testifying to the movement of the manuscript to Istanbul. I read the inscription as follows.
Library Stamp, Süleymaniyye Kütüphanesi, MS Laleli 3747, fol. 193a

هذا وقف سلطان الزمان / الغازي سلطان سليم خان / ابن السلطان مصطفى خان / غفى عنهما الرحمان / ١٢١٤

The two names mentioned here refer to Ottoman sultans of the 18th to early 19th centuries. The stipulator of this book endowment was Selīm III, known as a reformer and patron of the arts. As his father, the mentioned Muṣṭafā III, he was buried in the Laleli Mosque in Istanbul, which Muṣṭafā had constructed and where Selīm’s book endowment remained until its transfer to the Süleymaniyye Library. The date on the stamp indicates the addition to the endowment of this manuscript occurred in 1799.

The trajectory emerging from this information suggests that Ibn Mufliḥ acquired the ijāza at some point following the second iteration of transmission or, more probable, following Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death. Whether he took it with him to Istanbul or whether Selīm III bought the manuscript from Damascus cannot be ascertained without an analysis of the entire codex. The identification of the other scribe on fol. 192a might also help to pinpoint the transfer.

Back to the ijāza itself. It stands out among Ibn Ṭūlūn’s documents on transmission in that it starts out with panegyrics whose length is comparable to those of many of his writings. The Hamdallah covers three-and-a-half lines. It is separated from the following by a baʿd which leads into another seven-and-a-half lines of elaboration of Ibn Mufliḥ’s name and pedigree (as well as Ibn Ṭūlūn’s connections to members of that family).

Following this the presentation itself is lauded and finally we learn the subject of the session: the Ḥanbalī legal compendium (mukhtaṣar) of “the shaykh, the imām Abū al-Qāsim ʿUmar b. al-Ḥusayn al-Kharaqī” (d. 334 in Damascus; Onomasticon Arabicum, note ID: 12269). Until today, the importance of this work is overshadowed by that of Muwaffaq al-Dīn al-Maqdisī’s al-Mughnī ʿalā mukhtaṣar al-Kharaqī. Muwaffaq al-Dīn and his brother Abū ʿUmar, founder of the ʿUmariyya Madrasa, also have a part in the chain of transmission given by Ibn Ṭūlūn (fol. 192b).

The rest of the ijāza is concerned with the transmission through several chains (musalsal). One goes through Ḥanbalīs or, more specifically, through those residing in Ṣāliḥiyya or belonging to the Maqdisī family. Another goes through Shafiʿīs and Egyptians. And it obviously these chains which were the reason for documentation. This ijāza was one of riwāya, not teaching. Garrett Davidson describes this expansion of hadith transmission into other fields (Davidson 2014, 209):

The transmission of books through chains of transmission according to the protocols of hadith, has its roots in the idea that, like a hadith, it was only though a chain of transmission of trustworthy transmitters that the attribution of a text to an author could be reliably established. The chains of transmission it would be stated, “are the genealogies of books,” without a chain of transmission, to follow the analogy, a book was like a fatherless child cut off from sources of legitimacy.

This stands in stark contrast to the second, much shorter note following the ijāza proper. It seems to have been written much more hastily and is bare of visual aids to navigate the text—in the ijāza red ink is used to indicate new sections. Even the black ink is not as even. More importantly, this note documents only the subject, place and date of the act of transmission but omits information on its chain.

One possible reason is that this was session on a “muqaddima … fī ʿilm al-manṭaq” was in fact part of a more formal education for jurists. Therefore, its main concern was to record Ibn Mufliḥ’s successful exam on this text. The juxtaposition of both ijāzas could explain the terseness of this record, since all the necessary background information on Ibn Mufliḥ is given on fol. 192b. But the difference in what is recorded in both cases is striking.

Ijāzas or Samāʿāt?

Almost a year ago, I first wrote about Ibn Ṭūlūn’s teaching certificates (ijāzāt) and made a somewhat loose promise:

I could identify five teaching certificates (ijāza) in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. The four I have seen are between two and five pages long and were all written between 922/1516 and 943/1536. I hope to present all of them here in the near future.

In the meantime, one more item has received an entry and in March 2018 I finally got my hands on the final one I had not seen yet (I have uploaded the file to github like the others). It is part of a Majmūʿa kept at the library of the Baladiyya of Alexandria which I have already mentioned in a recent entry (“A whole Majmūʿa copied? MS Majāmīʿ 315”).

The inclusion of this new item requires a modification to the above-quoted assessment: Are all of these really ijāzas or are samāʿāt among them? In short, yes there are and they have been misidentified in the catalogues. And I found out, go me!

More precisely, two items are samāʿāt: the one in the Alexandria manuscript (Baladiyya al-Iskandariyya, MS Alex. Fun. 183, fol. 104a) and the second one is actually the first one to have received an entry, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, MS Wetzstein I 134, fols. 30a-b. That means that out of three entries about ijāzas (this one included) only one was actually devoted to ijāzas.

But it makes sense to discuss here how ijāzas and samāʿāt differ from one another, even where such a small corpus is concerned. The length of the text seems to qualify as a criterium in the case of the item from Alexandria which is only half a page/nine lines long. However, it does not hold up in the other case from Berlin, whose 36 lines are equal to those of an ijāza Ibn Ṭūlūn granted to Akmal al-Dīn Ibn Mufliḥ in 943 (Süleymaniyye U Kütüphanesi, MS Laleli 3747, fols. 192a-193a). Yet, as I have explained in the entry on the Berlin manuscript, the text has a lot to say about the context of this act of transmission, which might account for the greater length. This has to be seen against the background that in this case Ibn Ṭūlūn received and did not transmit knowledge.

The second criterium, which is more solid, is the wording in introducing the respective item. The items from Alexandria and Berlin begin with a simple al-ḥamdu li-llāh on a separate line, whereas the other three items are introduced with bi-sm Allāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm wa-huwa ḥasabī, also on a separate line, followed by the Hamdallah within the text body.

The third criterium is the terminology in the beginning of the text proper. In fact, I should have noticed already a year ago that the item in MS Wetzstein I 134 begins with the word samiʿa. But it took a second instance in the Alexandria manuscript for me to notice it. It might help to restore my credentials that both texts mention the issuing of ijāzas.

The other three items, however, show a different and more active engagement with works that are mentioned in the respective texts. They either recite (qaraʿa) or discuss (ʿaruḍa) them and receive a license for these endeavours. If we connect this to Garrett Davidson’s distinction between transmission for devotional purposes and and as part of structured education (on Davidson’s work, see entries here and here), a clear functional distinction between these samāʿāt and ijāzas emerges.

This distinction is supported by the diverging venues where these reading sessions took place. The ijāzas were issued exclusively in established institutions of learning: the Umayyad Mosque and the Ottoman Salīmiyya Mosque. Compare this to the sites of the Berlin and Alexandria items: the former records a recitation “in a garden (bustān) in Qaṣr al-Labbād, an area in the vicinity of Barza and Qābūn” (see Tuluniana 3: A teaching certificate) and the latter records recitations at the sultan’s maṣṭaba near Qābūn and the Shrine of Abraham (maqām al-khalīl) close to Barza.

The last place, in particular, was integrated in the sacred landscape of Damascus and Ibn Ṭūlūn himself devoted two treatises to it: Qudrat al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām Khalīl and Manḥ al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām al-Khalīl.

One aspect that I have not yet addressed is obviously the content of transmission. In both the cases from Berlin and from Alexandria, the content appears more devotional than part of a formal education. The subject of the Berlin samāʿ is “a work elaborating on the merits of Damascus (faḍāʾil)”. The other samāʿ mentions two of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s smaller works. One is the ḥadīth treatise Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī manṭaq al-ṭayr wa-l-dawābb, which incidentally begins on the verso of the same folio (fols. 104b-105b). The second work, Sharḥ al-ṣudūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr, is likewise concerned with animals.

I was recently made aware that this text might even be a rendition of a classic tale. In any case, the contents are another clear indicator that these two documentations were concerned with transmission outside of formal education.

A teaching certificate

Teaching and audition certificates have become all the rage in the social history (of knowledge production) of the Medieval Middle East during the last decades. Ibn Ṭūlūn allegedly complained that he lost most of those he received from his teachers in the turmoil of of revolts and reconquests of Early Ottoman Damascus.  Yet, some actually have survived and even been edited by Muḥammad Muṭīʿ al-Ḥāfiẓ under the title Nawādir al-ijāzāt wa-l-samāʿāt (Beirut 1998).

In turn, some certificates he issued in turn to his own students do survive as well, dispersed in manuscripts in Berlin, Istanbul, Alexandria and Princeton. So far, I could identify five teaching certificates (ijāza) in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. The four I have seen are between two and five pages long and were all written between 922/1516 and 943/1536. I hope to present all of them here in the near future.

The first one (see below for the attachment) is the earliest among them and also one of the shortest. It is found on fols. 30a-b in MS Wetzstein I 134 at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. In fact, Ibn Ṭūlūn might have been only the scribe but not the authority of this document, as it documents the transmission of a work elaborating on the merits of Damascus (faḍāʾil) from his teacher ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Nuʿaymī who was himself present. Fittingly, the ijāza follows directly a copy of another faḍāʾil work by Ibn Qāḍī Shuhba.

Even though it sits right in the middle of the volume, the ijāza carries two paratextual elements on the second page that indicate a later compilation of that codex. One is a reading note and the second a library stamp, both of which indicate one Ḥāmid b. Ismāʿīl al-Taqī as a temporary owner around 1314/1799. Below the reading note, there is another annotation which seems to indicate a price (all are included in the transcript).

This ijāza has some interesting information concerning Ibn Ṭūlūn’s social and intellectual environment. For once, the presence of his life-long friend, the Meccan scholar Jār Allāh Muḥammad Ibn Fahd stands out. Following Ibn Ṭūlūn’s own journey to Mecca, where he received several ijāzas from members of that family, he seems to have reciprocated by taking Jār Allāh under his wings in Damascus, and he frequently refers to his presence in other works as well.

Secondly, this session took place a mere half year before the Ottoman conquest of the city and in a garden (bustān) in Qaṣr al-Labbād, an area in the vicinity of Barza and Qābūn, north-east of the old city. The geographical designation is used until this day. In contrast, the three other sessions all took place in mosques. Nonetheless, at this one several Egyptians and Meccans were present, among them the imām of the Shrine of Abraham.

Ibn Ṭūlūn refers to this event in his chronicle as well (Mufākahat, vol. 2, 7), where he adds that the judge Karīm al-Dīn Ibn al-Akram decides to move ḥadīth studies there. Most of the participants met at the jujube tree in front of the judge’s house to travel there. In this account, al-Nuʿaymī is only mentioned as one and not even the first of those present, whereas the ijāza shows that he must have been rather one of the central figures in the following session.

Finally, the annotations mentioned above might indicate a later assemblage of the manuscript codex. Even though the text prior to the ijāza was copied contemporarily to its creation (the colophon gives the year 913/1508), it is not the work referred to in the ijāza. Instead it refers to a faḍāʾil work by the Mālikī author “Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Shujāʿ al-Rabaʿī” (d. 444/1052-53).

The transcript of ijāza is an xml file and uses TEI XML for the manuscript description. In this I have followed the fihrist guidelines. Minor structural markup indicates page breaks. Place and personal names have been marked up as well in a very simple manner.   Every annotation on the two folios has been entered into a different <div> section.

Yet, the use of TEI is not completely coherent when it comes to point where I was unsure in my reading of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. These instances are marked by a “(؟)”; sometimes two possible readings are given divided by a “/”. These uncertainties are indicated on the level of individual words.

Addition: All four ijāzas have been uploaded to github.

Upcoming Panel at the School of Mamluk Studies Conference (Beirut, 11-13 May 2017)

The next annual SMS conference will come to Beirut in May. Together with Christopher Bahl (SOAS, London), I have organized a panel on “The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn“.

Participants include Ahmad Nazir Atassi (Louisisna Tech University), who will speak about the textual transmission of Ibn Saʿd’s biographical dictionary, and Mariam Shaibani (Universtiy of Chicago), whose talk will explore authorship and transmission in Islamic law. Her paper focuses on the magnum opus of ʿIzz al-Dīn Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (d. 660/1262) and its transmission from his lifetime through the 14th century. Christopher Bahl will speak about the transregional transmission of grammar treasises (in particular, across the Indian Ocean basin). My own presentation addresses the surprisingly large-scale survival of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s minor works or transcripts (taʿlīqāt/taʿālīq), the reason for which has to be sought in his bibliographical and archival practices. It differs from the subjects of the other talks in as far as it is, first, a very local case of textual transmission, and, second, because most of the copying was actually done by the author himself.

Here is the abstract (by Christopher Bahl and myself):

The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn
organized by Christopher D. Bahl (London) and Torsten Wollina (Beirut)

Scholarly practices in the premodern Islamicate world were geared towards a diverse set of transmissional frameworks and articulated through a variety of social encounters. Scholarship over the years has pointed out the centrality of practices intended to preserve knowledge within everyday life during the Mamluk period (Berkey, 1992; Chamberlain 1994). More recent studies have emphasized writing, particularly the ways in which processes of textualisation played out in different spheres of social life (Hirschler, 2012) or acted as a medium of communication (Bauer, 2013) in the medieval Arab lands. It is well established by now that written transmission did not only complement oral traditions but also transformed and competed with them (Blecher 2013, Burak 2015). Texts were rarely used as simple ‘storage containers’, nor were they intended only for individual use. Rather, texts were embedded in preexisting oral contexts (Blecher 2013, Pfeifer 2015) and were often disseminated along similar networks as oral traditions.
We aim to explore how these developments brought about changes in the transmission of knowledge and the constitution of authority across different fields of scholarly inquiry (ʿilm / fann).  We understand transmission practices across these fields as particular scholarly forms of communication, which we trace through written artefacts from various genres, such as historiography, philology, and law, and their referential presence (e.g. intertextualities) in their circulation across and beyond the Mamluk realm.
Our guiding questions include: What is transmitted in these manuscripts, or what are their multiple textual constituents? How, i.e. through which academic encounters, patronage networks or financial transactions, were the manuscripts or their content transmitted;? And by whom were they circulated, in which social environment and with whose participation? These questions contribute to the broader issue of how and what scholars impart in the process of manuscript transmission in different times and localities.


  • Bauer, Thomas. “‘Ayna hādhā min al-Mutanabbī!’ Toward an Aesthetics of Mamluk Literature”. Mamlūk Studies Review 17 (2013), 5-22. Berkey, Jonathan. The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo. Princeton, 1992.
  • Blecher, Joel. “Ḥadīth Commentary in the Presence of Students, Patrons, and Rivals: Ibn Ḥajar and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī in Mamluk Cairo”. Oriens 41 (2013): 261-87.
  • Burak, Guy. The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Chamberlain, Michael. Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Hirschler, Konrad. The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands a Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  • Pfeifer, Helen. “Encounter After the Conquest: Scholarly Gatherings in 16th-Century Ottoman Damascus.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47/2 (2015): 219-239.